At least 57 people died during the recent winter storms in Texas, according to preliminary data published Monday by state health authorities.
The Texas Department of State Health Services’ preliminary tally is for verified winter storm-related deaths that occurred between Feb. 11 and March 5, when the state’s power grid failed in response to an unprecedented level of winter weather in the South.
Officials counted 57 deaths in the preliminary report, 25 of which were in Harris County, which includes Houston. The next highest preliminary death count was in the much smaller Taylor County, which includes Abilene, with five fatalities.
The number of deaths in the preliminary tally could change as state health officials update information weekly and verify more deaths, DSHS cautioned.
DSHS said there are three main ways in which the agency is notified of storm-related deaths. The first is when medical certifiers submit a DSHS form specifying that a specific death was disaster-related, and the second is when medical certifiers flag a death record as disaster-related. The third method is when DSHS epidemiologists match public disaster-related death reports to death records.
The agency does not have an estimate as to how many deaths will potentially be counted when authorities have completed the verification process, DSHS spokesperson Douglas Loveday told HuffPost. Disaster epidemiologists “continue to reconcile information about the causes of death,” according to DSHS.
“The majority of storm-related deaths verified to this point were associated with hypothermia,” the agency said in a release. “There have also been multiple deaths caused by motor vehicle accident, carbon monoxide poisoning, medical equipment failure, falls and fire.”
Texas and much of the central and southern U.S. faced extreme winter weather in February, leaving multiple states to deal with storm-related problems. But while the majority of the continental U.S. is made up of two major alternating current power grids, Texas intentionally operates on its own, mostly isolated network, run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT.
Texas came to a halt when the storm severely disrupted ERCOT, with several energy production failures in response to cold weather ― including the stoppage of oil and gas wells ― wreaking havoc on Texas’ power plants and pipelines. Supply during the winter storm was nowhere near able to meet the demand of Texans, who lost heat, water and electricity in their homes for weeks.
Now-fired ERCOT President Bill Magness said that the grid turned to rolling blackouts after it was “seconds and minutes” away from a massive failure that would have left Texans without power for months. But the lack of power left people freezing in their homes, rationing food and water, using cars and generators to stay warm, and losing access to lifesaving medical equipment.
Federal regulators recommended years ago that Texas and other Southwestern states winterize their infrastructure, as many cold-weather states do, to avoid a potential utility failure. But Texas leaders ignored the warnings, valuing the dearth of expensive regulations on their detached power grid.